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Writers utilize many tools to effectively hook their audience. While some relate to plot development, others offer deeper, richer psychological and sociological insight into how the character behaves in certain situations and how that behavior impacts on his psyche and growth.  Laertes, son of Polonius, and Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, for example, serve as foils or contrasting characters for Hamlet, the courageous prince of Denmark who found it to be most difficult to take revenge on the cunning and powerful King of Denmark, in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Laertes and Fortinbras expose and highlight certain traits in Hamlet’s character, and a careful analysis reveals that the characters behave both similarly and differently in relation to the theme of advice and duty, action versus inaction, and sanity versus madness.  
Shakespeare displays three men who face the same tragedy, live by a well defined code of conduct, and share an obligation or call to duty to honor their fathers by committing murder and essentially creates the perfect situation to establish them as foils. Laertes is driven by an intense desire to protect his family and defend its honor, and nothing will prevent his swift response to his father’s death. Similarly, Fortinbras sends an army into battle just to take control of a small amount of land to ultimately honor his father who lost the land. This act of loyalty towards his father by Fortinbras makes Hamlet realize that he must also do his duty as a son for his father. Fortinbras, a minor character, then has a significant impact on Hamlet. Hamlet swears loyalty to his father and perform his duty as son to avenge him and take back his mother and the throne. “Haste me to know’t that I, with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge (I.v.33-35)”. While Hamlet’s intentions are good, his inability to act sets him apart from these two foils.
Hamlet’s inability to act sets him apart from Laertes and Fortinbras and offers Shakespeare an opportunity to further develop Hamlet as a most complex character. Laertes, for example, ultimately kills Hamlet to avenge his father’s death. Even though Hamlet sincerely apologizes for his murderous deed, Laertes makes no excuses for following through with his plan. Similarly, Fortinbras sends an army into battle just to take control of a small amount of land in order to honor his father who lost the land. When Hamlet sees Claudius in the garden and moves to kill him he, however, hesitates because he wants to ensure an eternity of suffering for his father’s murderer. “The time is out of joint.  O cursed spite,That I ever was born to set it right”(I.v.190.192). While Hamlet listens to his father’s advice, his response to the task differs from that of Laertes and Fortinbras who show no hesitation or remorse model commitment to act and commitment to duty. 
Hamlet’s state of mental health can also be compared to that of Laertes and Fortinbras to reveal much about the theme of sanity versus madness. Laertes falls into a mad hunger for revenge when Hamlet kills Polonius; however, he learns to think clearly during his fight with Hamlet even though he ultimately lets his heart lead him. Fortinbras, on the other hand, is a passionate character who will not be stopped and is driven beyond reason by his fierce determination to avenge his father. Additionally, Hamlet shows signs of insanity as he contemplates suicide; moreover, his soliloquy indicates that he looses track of when his father dies, and it is maddening to him (III.ii.380-391). 
Tis now the very witching time of night, (380)
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out 
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood, 
And do such bitter business as the day 
Would quake to look on. Soft! now to my mother.
O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever (385)
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom:
Let me be cruel, not unnatural:
I will speak daggers to her, but use none;
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites; 
How in my words soever she be shent, (390) 
To give them seals never, my soul, consent! 
While he sinks to this state of mind, Hamlet demonstrates resilience, and one could argue that his feigned instability saves him a greater purpose. Unlike Laertes and Fortinbras, Hamlet is governed by a defining set of morals and values which prevent him from impulsive behaviors. 
An analysis of Laertes and Fortinbras reveals certain traits in Hamlet’s character, and a careful study suggests that the characters behave both similarly and differently in relation to the theme of advice and duty, action versus inaction, and sanity versus madness. Shakespeare develops three characters who deal with the deaths of their fathers, live by a well defined code of conduct, and share an obligation or call to duty to honor their fathers by committing murder, and he essentially creates the perfect situation to establish them as foils. Much can be learned about the nature of man as revealed in this work. While plot drives the actual story, the characters’ motivation captivates the audience. It is their response to their individual responsibilities to their families and fathers in particular that allows the audience to weigh and evaluate their character.

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